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Pin-up Girls of the 1800's




     "Speaking of Pictures" was a common article in LIFE that would feature new interesting images with a short explanation to discuss the context in which it was taken.  Sometimes simple photography and other time more complex, whatever the reason it always took up a two page spread within the first few pages and would discuss something you may not have known before.  Big images and few words have always been a great way to grab a reader’s attention and then pull them in.

     In the July 26th, 1954 twenty-cent edition, LIFE delves into the world of collectors’ items by presenting an article called "Speaking of Pictures... Cigarette cards were 1880's Pin-ups."

     "In the late 1880's the racy gallery shown here was a national favorite.  The American pastime was saving cigarette coupons and exchanging them for gaudy picture cards put out by tobacco companies.  Today, all but forgotten, this album is a collectors' item.  It was reproduced from copy owned by Charles Lowenson, a New Yorker who has been collecting cigarette cards for 68 of his 78 years.  Titled Sporting Girls, the gallery is also a quaint reminder of an era when cheesecake was more decorative than daring."

     It was hard to distinguish whether or not this was an advertisement or an actual article, like so many of the ads in the early and mid-1900's the over saturation of cigarette adds was phenomenal. Once reading the explanation that the cards themselves had been marketing ploys at one time became more clear. One might wonder why Pin-up girls would have been a good idea until you understand the consumer base of smokers before 1950.

     Unlike today, people were not aware of the harm cigarettes had on the human body. There was only one thing that held back the consumer a base, and that was gender.   Back then in America it was only proper for men to smoke and was seen as “un-lady like” and seriously frowned upon for woman. It wasn’t until the 1950s with the help of a man named Edward Bernays who used the Women’s Movement and advertising as leverage to bridge the consumer gap by saying how smoking promotes freedom and independence.

     So for this Speaking of Pictures article to be published around a time when smoking was still largely a men’s activity is not out of the ordinary. In the 1880’s especially there would have been about less then 1% of woman smokers. Therefore cigarette companies had to work hard to figure out how to make less then half of its citizens to smoke as much as possible, risqué photographs were a perfect ploy. By collecting coupons from every package you smoked, it would then allow you to buy these provocative images that have now turned into a rare collectors item.